Book review: The Cross of Christ by John R. W. Stott
Copyright 2013 by Bob Rogers
John R. W. Stott, who was pastor of All Soul’s Anglican Church in London before passing away in 2011, was one of the most respected evangelical writers in Great Britain. I thoroughly enjoyed his classic book, The Cross of Christ (InterVarsity Press, 1986, 2006). I found it to be the best book I have ever read about the Cross. I’m not surprised that it received the 1988 Evangelical Christian Publishers Association Gold Medallion Award.
Stott wrote as an evangelical pastor and scholar. While he thought deeply, he wrote with clarity and frequent illustrations. In fact, I used his book as the basis for a series of sermons on the cross.
Stott’s book begins by making a passionate argument for the centrality of the cross to the Christian gospel. Then he explores the reasons for the crucifixion, and while describing many “images” of atonement, he zeros in on Christ as a substitutionary sacrifice to satisfy both the holiness and love of God. His discussion in chapter seven of propitiation, redemption, justification and reconciliation is perhaps the best chapter of the book. The book concludes with chapters on what it means to live as followers of the One who died on the cross, with excellent explanations of service, overcoming evil, and understanding suffering.
Stott has read widely on the subject and he graciously comments on opposing views from liberal scholars and Roman Catholic scholars. He takes other views seriously, but he is faithful to an orthodox evangelical interpretation of scripture. I found it interesting that he disagrees with the popular view of Jesus’ death as a “ransom” paid to the devil in a strictly literal sense. His discussion on the distinctions between Protestant and Roman Catholic views of justification is particularly insightful. Stott rejects the doctrine that God does not suffer, maintaining in chapter 13 that it is precisely because God did suffer on the cross that we are able to bear our suffering.
Many parts of the book read as if they were sermons. This is not surprising, since Stott was a pastor. Yet it comes together as a systematic theology of the cross. His conclusion makes an excellent sermon on how central the cross is to Paul’s Letter to the Galatians.
This is a book that I will read again and again in the years to come.